Monday, November 12, 2007

Lessons in economics

Boulder Weekly covers the city public schools' burgeoning black market in ... wait for it ... candy. Black market in candy? Yep -- it's all courtesy of a new school district policy "that has removed all unhealthy, sugar-laden snacks and sodas from vending machines in schools. The new policies are part of a national trend, in which foods are forbidden at schools if they don’t meet strict nutritional criteria that limit calories coming from sugar and fat."

How restrictive is the policy?

Boulder’s new policies apply to vendors of food services, snack and beverage vending machines, student stores, fundraisers and “any regularly offered food during a child’s school day.” The policy allows water and seltzers, low-fat milk, fruit juice (no less than 50 percent real juice), and electrolyte sports drinks with 42 grams or less of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving. Allowed snack items include nuts, seeds, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and vegetables, and some packaged fruits. Other food items are allowed only if calories are comprised of 35 percent or less fat, 10 percent or less of saturated fat plus trans fat, and if sugar comprises 35 percent or less of the total weight of the product.

All very well-intentioned, I'm sure. But school administrators clearly forgot one of the iron laws of economics: If you ban it, they will come ("they" being underground entrepreneurs, of course).

The money to be made sounds pretty impressive. The story details kids buying iPods and new clothes -- and even taking their own parents out to dinner -- from the profits made off marking up candy bought in bulk at Costco. At least one set of parents actually bankrolled their entrepreneurial offspring.

The laws of economics rule across the board, of course. Profit margins have apparently drifted down because of the influx of competition from other kids who have turned their lockers into convenience stores.

Unsurprisingly, similar black markets have appeared elsewhere when school administrators imposed nutritional restrictions that ran contrary to consumer tastes.

Huh. These modern kids have it so easy. In my day, we had to sell dope to make a buck between classes.

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